Audio Review: Doctor Who: Inferno


‘SEVENTIES Who was probably at its most adult during the 1971 season, when the newly-regenerated Third Doctor was exiled to Earth and first allied himself with paramilitary organisation UNIT to investigate extraterrestrial threats to the planet. This was before the debut of the Master and Jo Grant, when the Brigadier and the Doctor frequently clashed over the use of military force, and the series had a feel closer to Quatermass than the cuddly teatime series of years gone by.

Perhaps the most highly regarded of this run of stories was Inferno, which initially purported to be the story of an experimental drilling project burrowing deeper inside the Earth’s crust than ever attempted before, until the release of a deadly liquid begins transforming humans into monstrous mutants…

So far so typical of the programme at the time, but then the Doctor accidentally transports himself to a parallel world where the Inferno project has progressed further and now threatens to destroy the entire planet… But to compound matters, this Britain is ruled by a fascist dictatorship, with ruthless equivalents to the Doctor’s friends and colleagues, and they have no reason to believe the warnings of this mysterious stranger that their actions could spell the end of the world.

Novelised by Terrance Dicks, this audiobook is read by Caroline John, who portrayed the Third Doctor’s scientist assistant Liz Shaw, and admirably captures the intensity of the television serial, as for once the Doctor proves incapable of preventing the destruction of Earth, albeit in a parallel dimension.

Weighing in at a hefty seven episodes (the equivalent of three and a half episodes of modern Who), it might be argued that the TV version of Inferno could have benefited from some judicious editing, but Dicks has tightened up the serial without losing any of the power of the original story, and Caroline John’s reading conveys the sense of impending menace with passion and enthusiasm. Well worth investigating.